The UMMAA has several items from its collections in an exhibit in the lobby of the U-M Museum of Natural History, titled “Why Do We Collect?” Among the items are dragon jar sherds from the Philippines, which were collected by Carl Guthe in the 1920s. 

Visitors in the lobby of the University of Michigan’s new Museum of Natural History can now find an exhibit called “Why Do We Collect?” This exhibit draws from the collections of the university’s research museums, including Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, the Museum of Zoology, the Museum of Paleontology, and the Herbarium. Objects from each of these research museums are on display, along with text that explains how those items were collected by U-M scholars. UMMAA collections in the exhibit include dragon jar sherds from the Philippines, which were collected by Carl Guthe in the 1920s (see two photos below); corn collected from Washtenaw County by UMMAA ethnobotanists in the 1930s; a ceramic vessel made by the Conibo People of Peru; and coins gifted to the U-M NAGPRA project in 2015 by members of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

Even broken pieces of pottery can tell archaeologists a lot about the people who made and used them. Carl Guthe and his team excavated the dragon jar sherds in the Philippines in the 1920s during a three-year expedition. During this expedition, Guthe documented 542 archaeological sites, dating from about 500 BC to AD 1700. When the expedition ended, he shipped more than 15,000 objects back to the museum. The U-M excavators took extensive notes, but they never published an in-depth analysis of the collection. Over the years, many scholars from around the world have studied this collection. Recent chemical and design analysis has shown that these sherds were made for trade in 14th- or 15th-century China.

The “Why Do We Collect?” exhibit will rotate in new collections each year.